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Three-year-long dispute between Lenawee County and an Amish community could be nearing end

Tracy Samilton
Amish horse and buggy

A three-year-old lawsuit that pits religious freedom against a county's public health code is scheduled to go before a judge next month.

Lenawee County wants an Amish community to hire outside haulers to dispose of their outhouse waste, in accordance with its public health code.

That's instead of the farmers' current practice of treating the waste with lime, and using it to fertilize animal grazing fields.

John Gillooly represents the county. He said the Amish community is creating a public health threat, and the county's position does not unduly restrict religious expression.

"We think that requiring somebody to be there once a year, or once every six months to dispose of the waste, that that will not frustrate their religious objectives or their religious freedoms, which a very important in the United States."

But ACLU attorney Philip Mayor said it's against his client's religious beliefs to use the technology of the outside world for tasks they can perform with their own labor.

"The county has been discriminating against the Amish, refusing to take seriously their religious objections," he said. "And ignoring the science and practices around the country and even in the neighboring county, showing that everything our clients are doing is safe and is necessary from their religious perspective."

Mayor said Lenawee County has not provided any evidence of a risk to public health in the case. And he said there have been no public health problems linked to an Amish community in neighboring Hillsdale County which has the same waste disposal practices.

Both sides have filed a motion for summary disposition, arguing that the facts uphold their version of the case, and the judge should rule in their favor without holding a trial.

Oral argument on the motions is December 5 before Circuit Court judge Michael Olsaver. Gillooly said the judge could issue an opinion as soon as January.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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